Does Islam permit critical thinking?
Muhammadullah Muhammad Khalili Qasmi
reply to a question on online Darul Ifta,
Maarif Education & research Centre, Mumbai, India
Many believe that
Islam has banned critical thinking and introduced a kind of stagnation in the
field. So, I want to answer the common question "Does Islam permit critical
People state, "Most
Muslim schools focus on rote memorization of religious texts and discourage
independent thinking". There are two different things; critical thinking and
rational or independent thinking. There are categories where the mind should
play its role and where it should not poke its nose. The clear and apparent
meanings of the Glorious Qur'aan and the Hadith, which are called "Mansusaat" or
'Nusoos-e-Qatiyah' in Islamic terms, have no place for criticism. Here, rational
thinking to find out the depth is not only permissible but also encouraged in
Islam. The principle beliefs, obligatory practices are from this category where
the human mind is allowed to explore the reasons and the facts of the matters,
but it is not allowed to criticize since the mind has its own limitation as
other human faculties have.
For instance, what the hearing faculty can do the smelling faculty cannot, and
what the eyes can see the others cannot. As we see a plane flying in the sky,
looks very little, if we use only our eyes and not mind, it will be that the
plane is small like a bird. But here, we use our mind and say 'no' since the
plane is at a certain height that is why we see it small otherwise it is huge.
As in this example, there comes one point where the boundary of eye's action
ends and the boundary of mind's action begins. Likewise, there is one point
where certainly the human mind fails. This is a common idea every sane believes
But ahead of this, there is difference between Muslims and others. Muslims
believe in 'Wahy', which can be translated as 'revelation' which is by Allah
almighty to his messengers and prophets through different ways. The action of
'Wahy' begins from where the action of human mind comes to an end. The 'Wahy'
tells us specially about the things which generally a mere human mind cannot
find out. The existence of Allah, His attributes, the hell, the paradise, Day of
Judgment etc are known only by 'Wahy'. Since, these matters are out of the reach
of human mind so the human beings are asked just to believe in. The issue of
'wahy' is based on a principle that every action of human being is poised with
error, it is only Allah and His Messengers who are free from human mistakes.
That is why there is no possibility of error and criticism in their matters. The
human body is temporal and mundane so the parts of the body are also mortal.
They cannot have the feeling of things which belongs to another permanent and
eternal world. This even we observe in our day-to-day life that if a villager is
told about the facts of astronomy he nearly denies all the same.
Besides, Islam allows critical thinking in other matters. The four major schools
of thought in Islamic Fiqh i.e. Hanafi, Shaf'ee, Maliki, Hanbli are the clear
proof of the claim. The scholars, having deep knowledge of the Glorious Qur'aan,
Hadith and Islamic sciences, discussed the matters, which were not explicitly
mentioned in the Qur'aan and Hadith, and they perform Ijtihad. In this course,
they many times contradicted each other and had different opinions about same
issue. But, after all, there opposition was barely not an opposition to play
down the other but sincere and concrete opposition based on proofs and
evidences. That is why today nearly all of the Ummah follows any of the four
schools and none of them deny the other, each of them believes that all are on
Likewise, in Islam 'Amr bil Maroof' (enjoining the right) and 'Nahy anil Munkar'
(forbidding from wrong) are the basic rules of a social life, which Allah
almighty has counted in one of the characteristics of this Ummah as He states:
"You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. You enjoin
right conduct and forbid indecency; and you believe in Allah." (Surah
This is emphasized by other verses and holy Hadiths, as for example a Hadith
"If any of you sees an evil done he/she should stop it by his hand, if he/she
cannot he/she should protest against it, if cannot then at least he/she should
repulse it by heart, and this is the weakest from of faith." (Sahih Muslim, V 1
As another Hadith assets "The best form of Jihad is to utter the truth before an
oppressor ruler". You might know the story of a common person who stood before
Hazrat Umar Farooq while he was delivering a sermon and said if you will go
wrong we will rectify you by our swords, in reply Hazrat Umar thanked Allah that
his caliphate enjoys persons determined for truth and justice. Here, one thing
should be kept in mind that, though Islam has allowed criticizing, it sternly
prohibits backbiting and hurting others.
"O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they
(are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither
defame one another, nor insult one another by (insulting) nicknames. Bad is the
name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil
doers. O ye who believe! Shun much suspicion; for lo! some suspicion is a crime.
And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the
flesh of his dead brother? Ye abhor that (so abhor the other)! And keep your
duty (to Allah). Lo! Allah is Relenting, Merciful." (Surah Al-Hujrat, 49:
So, this means that criticism should not be for the sake of criticism, and on
personal basis but it should be with a good intention, i.e. 'Islaah' based on
All these things prove that Islam has never discouraged independent thinking and
criticizing, it has allowed human mind to function in areas where it can work.
Not only this that Islam has allowed independent thinking, but it is The
Glorious Qur'aan which has set the tradition of thinking in the creation of
Allah and asked its followers to reflect on the natural phenomena. For example
the Glorious Qur'aan praises people who think:
"Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and (in) the difference of
night and day are tokens (of His sovereignty) for men of understanding. Such as
remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of
the heavens and the earth.